Routt County: A roadie’s reality check
Stagecoach resident parties with the Stones, rides with the cowboys
The day after Thanksgiving in 1994, Steve Chambers, now 34, stepped off a plane in Miami with a full beard and a rucksack.
He was greeted with glamour, the sort of stuff that “only happens in movies,” he said.
A limousine picked him up and drove him through the traffic leading up to a concert stadium. Helicopters with film crews buzzed overhead, and hundreds of lights shined down on him.
He remembers going through security in a limo and the crowd peering in to see who it was.
“I was just cracking up,” he said. “I think I stepped out and disappointed a few people who were like, ‘Who’s that guy?'”
Chambers had just taken a job, on a whim, to work on the set for The Rolling Stones’ “Voodoo Lounge” tour.
His first show was a pay-per-view concert hosted by Whoopi Goldberg that featured stars such as B.B. King.
Chambers’ first assignment was disassembling a 70-foot snake that moved out over the stage and spewed fire twice. After the concert, he had to climb the snake and take it down with the help of four stagehands.
“I was like, guys, I have no idea what I’m doing. Just don’t leave,” Chambers said.
They didn’t leave, the snake came down, and what Chambers thought would be a one-time tour job turned into 10 years and counting as a professional roadie.
Since that first tour, Chambers has worked on sets for concerts for music icons from the Rolling Stones to AC/DC, and other popular performers such as Janet Jackson, Sheryl Crow and Elton John.
He’s seen the world, traveling on the Stones’ most recent tour, “40 Licks,” to Europe, India, Singapore and Thailand.
He’s back home in his Stagecoach townhouse now, contemplating his options of which tour to work next. He has one offer to be part of the Britney Spears tour starting in February.
From the start, Chambers divided his time between the band scene and the ranching scene, guiding hunts and driving horses in Routt County when he’s not on a tour.
Chambers’ decision to live in Routt County — a long trip from his Ohio hometown — started with a ski vacation when he was younger. As he was riding up the lift and looking back at the valley floor, he said, he just had a feeling that he was home.
His childhood love of riding horses made ranching a natural fit, and through working with some of the area’s well-known equestrians, he’s learned well how to cowboy.
Chambers’ roadie work happened almost as a fluke, starting with a desire to go back to college to get his industrial engineering degree.
At the same time, a man left the Guns N’ Roses tour for the same Cincinnati program.
The two met and became fast friends, as neither was as serious or enthusiastic as the younger students. Soon the man was encouraging Chambers, a skilled rock climber, to come along on tours to help build sets, saying that people who were comfortable in harnesses were always needed.
After graduation, Chambers spent more time cowboying in Routt County but then moved to Seattle. In 1994, Chambers was camping at a friend’s house the night before Thanksgiving when he received a call inviting him on that first tour.
“So I threw my saddle and my skis back in my car and asked if I could park it in my friend’s back yard,” Chambers said.
Since that first tour, he’s met and hung out with some of the world’s best-known musicians. He was in a hotel room with the Stones when Keith Richards took a pistol and shot Mick Jagger’s guitar as a joke.
“Mick is pretty aloof, like you’d think, and he’s pretty straightforward,” Chambers said.
Richards, he continued, still knows how to party, but is on top of everything.
“Everybody thinks Keith is completely out of it and two steps behind, but he’s really three steps ahead,” he said.
Chambers also got to know members of AC/DC, who he said are some of the nicest guys around. When brothers Malcolm and Angus Young came to join the Stones onstage in Sydney, Australia, they talked with Chambers before getting up to play, telling him they were nervous about the performance.
But when they got on stage, the energy was huge, Chambers said.
“It was the greatest moment of rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “They just jammed, and the crowd went crazy.” Although it’s easy to get tired of a show after working it 100 times, the energy is hard to miss, especially while hanging 45 feet in the air directly behind the band, he said.
“When the crowd goes nuts, you get this spillover energy,” Chambers said. “It’s not even for you, but you’re in line for it, so you get hit by it.”
Being on the stage crew means constant problem-solving, such as figuring out what to do when the barrel of one of AC/DC’s seven pyro-loaded canons falls and rolls on stage, just missing Malcolm Young. Or when Jagger is sent up on an on-stage lift too fast and he catches air at the top.
It is also hard work, Chambers said. Complex stages for huge shows with enough stuff to fit into three 747s or more than 45 semitrailers would have to be assembled in about four hours.
Although Chambers loves the glamour, the Routt County ranching keeps him grounded, he said.
“The ranch is my second family, and that’s a reality check to go back to them,” Chambers said. “I think if I ever did either one full time, year round, I’d go nuts.”
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